Aquaphobia – The Fear Of Water: Causes, Symptoms, Effects



Do you experience fear when crossing a bridge that makes you hold the rails to the end? Probably, you fear water to a certain extent. People fear the sight, contact, or even the sound of water to different degrees. Such people are said to be aquaphobic.

Aquaphobia is the persistent fear of water that makes people avoid contact, sight, or getting near water bodies. Some people are conscious of their fear of water while others are not. The extent of aquaphobia varies from one person to another. 

Aquaphobia Fear Of Water

To some, the fear of water does not prevent them from water bodies and can bathe, swim or ride on the water as they keep the fear in their subconscious mind. It isn’t a fear of submerged items called submechanophobia, the darkness of the sea, or aquatic wildlife.

Those with extreme fear however have limited themselves from careers, recreational activities, and travel modes that involve water. In extreme cases, fear of water affects a person’s hygiene.

Learn more about the fear of water, its causes, symptoms, and effects from this post.

What Causes Fear of Water?

There are four main causes of fear of water. They include:

Negative Experience

I witnessed a friend drowning while playing along a riverbank in my childhood. Since then, I have always suffered from anxiety, especially when crossing a river and always find myself extra–cautious.

This kind of fear that comes from a negative experience in the past can make an individual develop aquaphobia for the rest of their lives.

Learned fear

A person can inherit fear from a parent, friend, or caregiver. Such fear occurs when people close to us consistently remind us of the dangers of water until they become engraved in our minds.

Subconscious fear

Some people fear water naturally, for example, a person who cannot immerse their head in water, or look directly at open waters.

Lack of Exposure

People born and brought up in places where water is scant fear large water bodies. It is difficult to teach an adult how to swim due to a lack of exposure from childhood. This is caused by a lack of finances, cultural beliefs, and safety measures put in place by the authority.

Symptoms of Aquaphobia

People who fear water tend to avoid it, but this is not the only indicator of water phobia. Symptoms of water phobia can be broadly classified into two:

Physical Symptoms

These are outward indicators that a person who fears water exhibits. They include:

  • Shaking and trembling– A person with extreme fear of water shakes when standing near a large water body or when walking on a bridge.
  • Shallow breathing – A common symptom when a person is about to immerse their bodies in the water
  • Crying – Children who fear water cry when they are about to cross a water body or when taking a bath.
  • Excessive Sweating especially when riding a boat or looking directly to open deep water.
  • Persistent avoidance of water

Emotional Symptoms

Unlike the physical symptoms, it is not easy to detect the emotional symptoms of aquaphobia. If a patient does not come out and share their fears, they may live with the problem for the rest of their lives. They include:

  • Mental confusion – when a person finds difficulty in concentrating, listening, or maintaining a conversation.
  • Vivid thoughts of dangers associated with water such as drowning when walking near a water body. This is a common symptom in people with a negative experience.
  • Intense fear and anxiety whenever a person thinks about water
  • Excessive fear when a person is exposed to water
  • Embarrassment may lead a person to isolation from people.

How common is Aquaphobia?

Many people keep the fear of water in their subconscious minds and live with it comfortably. It is difficult to spot such people. The number of people who fear water however is higher than you may think.

According to research:

  • 46% of people across gender, age, and race fear the deep end of a pool
  • 32% fear immersing their heads underwater
  • 68% are afraid of deep open water
  • 46% fear drowning when near water bodies

In addition, about 46 million Americans are reported to have water phobia and only 2% of American adults go to swimming lessons.

What are the Effects of Aquaphobia

Some effects of aquaphobia are mild while others are severe. Here are some of them.

  • Poor personal hygiene in people with an extreme phobia
  • Isolation from family and friends. This results from embarrassment and may lead to depression and frustration.
  • It limits recreational activities and travel choices among the victims
  • It limits career opportunities where victims cannot explore careers that expose them to water like the marine industry.
  • It lowers a victim’s self-esteem and strains relationships with family and loved ones

Is Aquaphobia Treatable?

Just like other phobias, aquaphobia is treatable. The treatment method depends on the degree to which individuals fear water. The most effective method of treating aquaphobia is exposure therapy. Here, a person undergoes exposure to water in the following phases.

  • Thinking and talking about water
  • Watching videos and documentaries with scenes of water and water bodies
  • Interacting with water in a cup, a bathtub, or a bucket
  • Touching running water from a tap and shallow rivers
  • Opening and closing of faucets
  • Walking around, playing, and entering shallow water bodies

As the patient interacts with water, they progressively get used to and overcome the fear of water. It is recommended that exposure begins with shallow and harmless waters before exposure to deep and large bodies. 

Some mental caregivers start the therapy with large water bodies like lakes and fast-flowing rivers. Great care should be taken in this approach since it can have detrimental effects on the patient.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another way of treating aquaphobia. Here, a patient learns different relaxation techniques for managing fear and anxiety. Gradual learning helps patients to respond appropriately when exposed to water.

Bottom line

Aquaphobia is the most common disorder. It cuts across ages, gender, and race but can be easily managed. Care should however be taken while trying to treat it because it can leave the patient more devastated.

Here is a list of Aquaphobia-related phobias that you should consider:

  • Submechanophobia – the fear of partially or fully submerged man-made structures and objects. You can read more here.
  • Limnophobia – fear of lakes Liman in Greek – harbor, bay, that is, it is a reservoir with a calm surface of the water. Lymnophobia is the fear of lakes and what lies beneath the water’s surface. Limnophobia also consists a fear of swamps and ponds.
  • Potamophobia is the fear of rivers and torrents. The word potamophobia comes from the Greek potamos – a stream and denotes a state of fear that occurs when contemplating swift-moving water, fast-flowing rivers, whirlpools, and stormy waterfalls. Thalassophobia – fear of the seas and oceans Thalassa in translation from Greek “sea”.
  • Thalassophobia – a compulsive fear of swimming and swimming in the sea or ocean, to carry out sea voyages. An irrational fear of the sea prevents those suffering from thalassophobia from enjoying sea vacations and sea voyages, such a person will probably roast the entire vacation on the beach if there is no pool nearby. Batophobia – “deep” fear or fear of depth. A fear of depth is called bathophobia (from the Greek bathos – depth). The fear usually occurs when a person feels an endless abyss of water under him, especially when the distance to the bottom is not clear. Severe fear and a panic attack can cause you to lose control of your body and drown.
  • Antlophobia – the fear of floods. Antlophobia is the obsessive fear of flooding (from the Greek word antlia – pump). Most often, this phobia affects people who have suffered from floods or who personally know the survivors of the flood. Such a person is afraid of the destructive power of the flood, the material damage caused by it, and the possible loss of life.
  • Chionophobia – The term chionophobia comes from the Greek word chion – snow and means an obsessive fear of snow and aversion to it. Chionophobes are afraid of snowfall, snowballs, getting stuck in a snowdrift, getting into a snowstorm, being “cut off from the world” due to the abundance of snow, driving a car on a snowy road, etc.
  • Ombrophobia – The Greek word “ombros” means rain. and ombrophobia is an irrational fear of getting caught in the rain and before the rain in general. The fear of rain can be associated with both anthlophobia (fear of floods) and aquaphobia (fear of water), and with the fear of moisture, which promotes the reproduction of pathogenic microbes. Prolonged rainy weather can plunge people prone to ombrophobia into a state of depression.
  • Ablutophobia is the enemy of hygiene, the fear of contact with water. Ablutophobia (from the Latin word “abluere” – to cleanse) is a phobia consisting of a constant irrational fear of contact with water: swimming in a pond, taking a shower, washing in a bath, washing. A person suffering from ablutophobia tries his best to postpone contact with water until the last moment when a further delay in hygiene procedures is no longer possible. The abnormality of ablutophobia also lies in the fact that this fear is very obsessive and at the same time not associated with a risk to life.

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